Sunday, September 30, 2007

Spray Paint

While all the Ecuadorians were at the polls, I took the afternoon to do something I'd been intending to do for a while--walk around and photograph graffiti. It seemed fitting, since most of the graffiti is political, much of it pertaining directly to the Constitutional Assembly election today or the Presidential election last fall.

Quito is a very graffitied city, thus the saying "There are no blank walls in Quito." But the first thing I noticed was how crude it all is, scrawled in ordinary sloppy handwriting. I first wondered if the graffiti culture just wasn't developed, but clearly the culture is huge and well-established. It does seem to be less of an art form and more of a medium for expressing particular messages, often political, often amorous (though these tend to be in marker and often in more hidden places, like stairwells.) I suspect being in a country where the police are corrupt and where you won't be given a slap on the wrist if you're caught spending hours defacing someone's property leads people to get their message on the wall as quickly as possible, maybe using two colors as a flourish. Thinking about what I've seen, I'd classify the works into three groups.

First, of course, there are lots of tags, cryptic signatures saying, "I was here."

Second are the many messages meant to be read, rhetorical statements about politics, love, and other topics: "Out Yankees!" "Stop Wars," "We fight for Socialism." Sometimes the message is clever or a little obtuse: "Bald heads should roll" with a hammer and sickle, or, in reference to President Correa's election and move to rewrite the constitution, "The final Correazo comes. Chau Businessocracy" where 'Correazo' refers to the President, but also means something like 'whipping,' a play on the president's name meaning 'belt.' It's also interesting to see which issues are pressing, but marginalized, pushing their advocates to graffiti as a medium.
This one says, "My being a woman isn't for men. It's for being Free!" To which, someone has added "Yes." There are also walls demanding that abortion be legalized, and that lesbians unite. Despite the promises of the Constitution, women's equality is a long way off.

Finally, there's a small amount of stencil art. Interestingly, I've seen it only on walls, never on the sidewalk as is common in California (where, perhaps, it's done by people who are uneasy about defacing a building that clearly belongs to someone, but feel that a public sidewalk is fair game.) Although some are political, these pieces tend to be more artistic, conveying some sort of meaning beyond what a tag does, but without the clear agenda of political slogans. While applying the stencil is still quick, time and craft can go into making the stencil, although here too they aren't nearly as elaborate as I've seen in California.
Even if you don't speak Spanish, you can probably make out that it says "Violators of Verse."

I'm sure you'd like to see more of what I found on my walk, so take a look at my Graffiti Flickr set which contains about 75 photos. (I've translated those that need translation and provided some notes on acronyms and local references.)

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